There are times it’s taking me all day to write three sentences

That’s not the way it used to be, not when I was younger and could dash things off in the flush of inspiration, but it is what I’ve encountered revising my last two books.

It’s not even Wes McNair’s advice to write 400 good words every day. Not unless one of those sentences is an over-the-top wonder of 250 to 300 words.

The turtle pace here seems to arise when I’m trying to weave some new material into an existing draft, making it connect on two sides seamlessly. It’s not just the craft of fine writing, actually, but also the thinking more deeply about the unseen significance of the subject at hand.  What, exactly, is beneath the surface before us?

Of course, as a writer, this pace also has me wondering if I’ve simply used up all the easy stuff and left the bigger challenges for my senior years.

Any suggestions?

Chickens and the meaning of life, chapter whatever

A couple of incidents regarding my daughter’s chickens have me thinking about human affairs.

Her hens were increasingly picking on one another and squabbling until an incident with a neighbors’ dog posed a terror. In response, they instinctively banded together, including their otherwise useless rooster. For weeks after, their antisocial behavior was transformed, focused on a common enemy.

A year later, the same thing happened when a red tail hawk picked off two of the hens in the yard.

That leads to the question:

Do we humans really need some villain, however small, to make our own lives meaningful?

We see it in politics, for sure. And in sports. As for personal development and ethical living?

I am convinced we need to keep an eye on Satan, in whatever garb, but also need to be careful we don’t start “preaching for sin,” as early Quakers cautioned. The fact is that in fiction it is much easier to create a believable bad guy than a good one.

So even secular novelists must make sure to avoid exclusivity in their vision.

We also need to keep another eye on the Light and its leadings. Otherwise, well, we’d still be chickens at the mercy of foxes and weasels.

Goodness me, spritely?

In theory, at least, for a writer, nearly anything – or everything – is potential fodder. In my case, that leads to a new blog post, poem, or scene in a novel, but for others maybe a movie or streamed series of episodes or podcast.

Nicholson Baker demonstrated this quite charmingly in his alleged novel Book of Matches, striking on a practice of lighting a fire every morning in the dark depths of a northern New England winter. Novel? It’s simply a very lovely piece of masterful writing and insight, period. Any conflict is subtle.

But I am drawing the line at trying to do anything with a chart of daily blood pressure readings, before and after doubling the dosage of a prescription.

And that’s after bypassing those colonoscopy photos, with or without commentary of a travel guide sort.

Those of my age might understand or sympathize, but younger readers would no doubt be put off unless they possess a truly twisted mind. I can’t imagine the backlash. Besides, it just ain’t sexy.

In all fairness, I hate to admit I’m finding it harder and harder to comprehend a lot of the humor, video content, and even dialogue from their end of the spectrum. That part’s just scary, perhaps reflecting the realities they face. Should we start with global warming and its consequences?

Perhaps a typo I nearly released a moment ago suggests its own new genre. Fuction. Or fruction. With or without a k.

We don’t need to resort to physical gestures, do we?

A musician’s insight on leadership

The question of just what a symphony orchestra maestro actually does led to an unexpected answer about leadership on a YouTube interview. According to the 59-year-old Paavo Jarvi, a conductor is essentially a teacher, regardless of the quality of the players. That, more than his artistic vision or temperament or divine inspiration or managerial skills.

It had me thinking about the best bosses I’ve had and realizing their excellence was as teachers.

How about you? What do you look for in a leader?

~*~

By the way, I was rather startled when I came across Paavo’s age. I still think of him as a “young” conductor, one of Max Rudolf’s last students.

He’s now the age Dr. Rudolf was as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra, a fine ensemble Paavo later directed for a decade before turning his attention to Europe.

A few life lessons

Pack light, run, get out of the way.
I learned that in Boy Scouts.

Much later, that you have to take care of yourself first
before all the complications in whatever role as a parent.

Much less the seed catalogue
midterms or finals.

Porcupine climbing a tree at Quoddy Head State Park. Seems to embody a few life lessons too.

When Irish lights are shining

Living in New England, I’ve gained a fondness for lighthouses, an appreciation that has been heightened by my relocation to Way DownEast Maine. This state alone has more than 60 still in working order.

My research regarding the towers and their beams has, however, had me admitting that the bulk of the world’s most glorious examples are to be found on the rugged Atlantic coastline of France. Some of them resemble small castles, and many are built in grand style, no expense spared.

The English, in contrast, appear stuffy and uninspired. (Sorry about the pun there.)

What I wasn’t expecting was the discovery that Ireland also has some stunning examples.

If I ever get to the Emerald Isle, they’ll be high on my list of sites to visit.

What’s on your travel bucket list?

What a joy to be finally rehearsing together in person

I had no idea how we’d sound as an ensemble or even whether I’d measure up. Officially, I’ve been a member of the choir more than a year now, but all of that time, we gathered only on Zoom. We soon learned to mute ourselves for even the warmups, and our director did accomplish a miracle in taking our individual home-recorded stabs at two pieces and blending them into a virtual performance that wound up sounding better than we had any right to expect, especially considering my horrid best efforts. I simply assumed he used only the finest voices in his studio note-by-note studio wizardry while mercifully sidelining the rest of us or at least me. I wouldn’t say that any of the other pieces recorded before Covid really offered a clue of what we’d be like now.

So Monday night was a kind of debut for us, our return to weekly live, in-the-flesh rehearsals at the arts center, nary a laptop in sight.

When we sat down in our semi-circle, just 15 of us, I had reason to be dubious. For starters, like the population in general around here, our median age skewers topside. Voices do change as they age. For another, a small body like this leaves no room for error, each member is more exposed and requires more precise breathing than we’d face in a group of 50 to 80, as I’d been privileged to have before. Five individuals were absent, all with decent excuses. Twenty can make for a fine professional chorus, but we’re amateurs of varying degrees.

I’d already met one of the basses and knew of a third, the one who can hit notes four steps lower than I’ll ever manage even with a heavy cold. And then, praise be, I was introduced to a fourth section member. Go team!

We were all masked as a Covid precaution, but even after ordering special singers’ coverings, we had no idea how freely we’d be able to breathe and enunciate.

I didn’t even know how well I could follow our conductor. You get adjusted to different styles of leadership and expression. On Zoom, he was always trying to juggle a keyboard, a score, maybe a screen-sharing insertion or a recorded track, plus beat time and throw cues to the little squares at the top of the screen while we wound up a half count off the beat as a consequence of delays in transmission or electronic hiccups.

All that was now irrelevant. Taa-taa! The time of launch arrived. We got our first pitch and then the upbeat, and when we opened our mouths and uttered the first notes, everything melted gloriously. And that was just in warmup exercises.

When we turned to the pieces we’ve been practicing at home, we were joined by a pianist who had already impressed me with a recent recital. Our director could turn his full attention to leading us cleanly and expressively. Yes, his mask prevented his mouth from conveying the words, but not every conductor does that anyway.

There were rough edges and other imperfections, but there was also a palpable feeling of support through the presence of each other and a certainty that we can accomplish what needs to be reached in time for two concert performances a month from now.

It’s exciting. Making music with them was one of the big reasons I had moved to Eastport. I liked their repertoire, akin to what I’d done in Boston, and I like the fact I can walk to our performance space. Learning something new about music, my own abilities, and us as a community is invigorating.

What are you especially enjoying as we come out of Covid restrictions?

Truly, he is risen!

For Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world, today is Pascha, or Easter. Having already celebrated at midnight and into the wee hours of the morning, the faithful return for a late-morning vespers service where the Gospel reading is from John 20:24-28, the story of the disciple Thomas, “the Twin.”

Painting by Caravaggio

Rather than relying on second-hand rumors, he demands first-hand knowledge.

Wisdom, arise!